How to Pass the PBDS Exam for Travel Nurses in 5 Steps

By Chris LaCounte on Tue, Dec 03, 2013

nurses examDo you feel sick at hearing the words “Performance Based Development System” or PBDS? If you’re a travel nurse, you shouldn’t be. Here are 5 steps that can help you ace this assessment exam.

  1. Know the Beast!

    The PBDS is a “customized competency assessment process that evaluates hospital personnel's ability to do the job.” It was developed by Dr. Dorothy del Bueno and Performance Management Services, Inc. and is designed to assess the abilities of healthcare professionals.

  2. Review what you take for granted.

    The PBDS uses video vignettes that pertain to patient care situations you may be presented with during your shift. You will need to diagnose, select a treatment, and give a rationale for each treatment given.

    Since you know how to treat your patient in real life, think of it like you’re just asked to do it on paper or in front of a computer monitor. Mentally “walk” into your patient’s room and assess your patient. “See” what’s going on. “Listen” to what you patient is telling you. Walk in, wash your hands, introduce yourself – write step by step instructions as if you were explaining to another nurse exactly what you do from one minute to the next.

  3. Review online.

    This being the age of the Internet, a myriad of information on anything imaginable is available. And the PBDS is no different. Many travel nursing agencies have a section devoted to the PBDS. Your recruiter may have information regarding the test, and suggest sites to search. 

  4. Do not take the test requirement personally.

    According to an article by Carol Tuttas on the Healthcare Traveler Magazine website, there are over 800 hospitals nationwide using the PBDS system. It assesses regular and temporary staff based on three skill sets. These are critical thinking, inter-personnel relations, and technical skills. Hospitals only use this assessment to measure your ability to demonstrate the skills above and not to discriminate against other nurses.

  5. Rest, relax and be yourself!

    How many times have you heard “get a good night’s rest and eat a healthy breakfast” before any big event? This advice holds true with the PBDS. If you can, take the night before the test completely off. Don’t study or review. Enjoy the evening and go to bed at a reasonable time, so you can wake up refreshed and ready to go.

    The test can take up to 4+ hours depending on where you are, which is why you need to eat a good, balanced breakfast. Breaks may or may not be provided, so plan accordingly and consume proteins instead of sugar. Don’t go crazy with the coffee to avoid a “crash” in the middle of testing. Most importantly, be the great nurse you are! Be specific in your answers and take care of your “patient.” You’ll be fine, especially if you have some experience as a travel nurse. Once you finish it, you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about!


Performance Management Services, Inc. (2009). The Facts Don't Lie. Retrieved from

Tuttas, Carol. (2008). The Performance Based Development System assessment tool affects travel nurses. Healthcare Traveler, 9(15). Retrieved from


james jone 4 months ago
What a stupid Test! It is not in the scope of practice for a Nurse to diagnose a patient. Boycott any hospital that requires this test.

Anonymous 1 year ago
Amen to the girl that said nurses DO NOT DIAGNOSE. That is ludicrous that we should identify, diagnose, and treat....Unbelievable. We're nurses if we are going to diagnose and treat we would have gone to medical school.I have a BSN, I don't diagnose, I have discernment, and I'm old. I've seen alot of ER trauma but we are never in the business of diagnosing. You do have to make quick decisions, safe decisions, sometimes with very little help from others but there has always been a supervising physician to treat, in ER. Some peoples answers on here did worry me. Someone with 110 blood sugar would be basically nill priority in ER, that's considered normal. Some people handle families poorly. We make them leave immediately if there's any conflict, if they don't we call security. Unless it's a child, then unless they're coding I never make a mom leave ...she may have to step back some. You nurses that are being traumatized by this stupid test, go to a different agency. Don't lose confidence in yourself or let some nit wit "fail" you. Nursing is a difficult major, I will agree you're not ready for everything when you graduate, case in point...They may teach you how to start an IV but they didn't teach you what to say to the patient whose been stabbed by his cousin, whose crying because he can't go home, falling off the bed because he's 6'10, an ex-con, who by the way still has a knife in his back pocket with tissue on it, and btw, the cousin comes in while your trying to start the IV who stabbed him, begging him not to press charges..all that actually happened to me. But you know what I handled it and I was 25 years old. You're smarter than you think. Experience will teach you 75% of what you need to know. If you went to school to be a nurse, you worked hard for it, don't let any test or old burned out administrative fool deter you. You'll make it. :)

Diana Ahrens 2 weeks ago
Love love love your comment! You made me feel much better about this! Love your ER story. Thank you!

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Anonymous 3 years ago
I have been a nurse for 30 years. Just accepted and signed a 13-week contract as a travel nurse. Now I find out that I may not have the job if I fail the test. The "Welcome" letter from the hospital said, "Pass or no job." I am now petrified to take the test on Tuesday.

Anonymous 1 year ago
Don't go. That's a terrible way to speak to someone coming to help them. That they've never met. Go somewhere else! 30 Years, girl you can get a job. They don't deserve you.

Anonymous 3 years ago
I could not have said it better myself.

Anonymous 3 years ago
What a bunch of marketing fluff. This article is obviously written by a PBDS staffer or ivory tower "educator" who has no clue what a nurse in the real world is responsible for doing. Most state nurse practice acts to not allow nurses to "diagnose" patients, nor prescribe treatments as required by this test and as judged by the evaluator with purely subjective decisions. As a former computer systems analyst and current travel RN BSN, I can tell you this is one of the most poorly designed tests I have ever seen. There are two fields, each with scroll bars, one for interventions or treatments YOU prescribe (never an option to call the doctor), the other field for rationale for each one of your interventions. The clinical videos and pictures are often unclear, cannot be paused or replayed, yet one is expected to diagnose as if one had all the patient history, could study the information thoroughly, then assess signs and symptoms using all the senses of vision, hearing, touch, speech and smell. Next, one must quickly prescribe a treatment, rationale for each treatment in a separate field on the screen, format it correctly so the treatment and rationale correspond with each other while clicking your mouse back and forth between screens and scroll bars which move independently of each other, and type all the information into this poorly designed user interface before your time expires. It is well established that these tests are more often passed by new grads than experienced nurses. This test was designed by an MD, rather than nurses, and wreaks of medical school scenarios, rather than nursing, and is well outside the scope of nursing practice. Furthermore, this test was never intended to make hiring/firing decisions, rather to help evaluate strengths and weaknesses in order to shape training experiences. The test itself is a closely held secret with no clues given for how to take it successfully, the software is amateurishly designed and difficult to use even for the most expert computer users, the answers are subjectively judged by individuals who would likely not be able to pass the test themselves, one will not likely be told why they failed the test so they will not know how to improve their performance. One may be offered to re-take the test, but will have different scenarios and will have no way of preparing in advance to improve their performance. This is an insulting, demoralizing and ineffective program designed by doctors to simplify hiring/firing procedures without regard to the ability and proven experience of a competent nurse. It is by no means a proper measure of nurse competency, it does nothing but make the PBDS company money, yet you may lose your job if you fail it, after committing to a 13 week lease on a travel assignment. NEVER commit to anything long-term based on the possibility of passing this garbage test. Even if you pass, you will surely be disgusted at what you are expected to do for the privilege of working for the employer who subjected you to such a demoralizing test that is designed to evaluate your ability outside the scope of your practice with inadequate information and time to do so. This test should be outlawed for nurses in all states since we are not allowed to diagnose and even if we were, the test is grossly inadequate for the purpose it is currently being used. For more info from fellow nurses, see

Anonymous 3 months ago
Did you retake the test?

Anonymous 3 months ago
Did you retake the test?

Anonymous 1 year ago
Don't cry. Wipe your tears off and go somewhere else. Not all hospitals have this inane. Have confidence in yourself. They don't even know you. I wonder if THEY could pass that test. Never let a "test" change the way you feel about yourself. Nurses are so much more than a freakin test score. I've held people having miscarriages, I've talked to dying teenagers, I've sat on the floor with a spouse whose collapsed after finding out their husband just died. Put a test score on that. Your education is alot more than one stupid, unnecessary test. You'll make it. ;)

Anonymous 1 year ago
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Anonymous 1 year ago
I just came home crying because I failed the pbds exam I feel like an incompetent nurse. Thank you for your comments above you made me feel sooo much better.